By Joseph Murray
It is often said that birds of a feather flock together.
However, at Galway & Claddagh Swan Rescue, birds of all shapes and sizes make up a community of animals that are being cared for, either to be re-released back into the wild or simply to be given a home.
Located on the former site of Hunter’s Caravan Park within Lough Rusheen Park in Barna, the sanctuary was founded at the start of the century by Mary Joyce Glynn. In the present day, the rescue centre has a network of volunteers who look after the birds and contribute to the upkeep of the facility.
Its creation came out of necessity following an oil spill in the Claddagh in 2001. The incident saw a group of volunteers come together to clean the birds, eventually forming the organisation as we know it today.
Over 20 years on, the sanctuary is now home to characters such as Lucy, a goose who was rescued near the motorway in Athenry. She is seen as a mother goose and a guard dog, honking cheerfully at visitors as they peer through the fence.
Although the volunteers are unsure of her exact age, she acts as a guide for other rescued birds, teaching them to clean themselves and rearing them to survive in the wild.
Importance of volunteers
Cyril Manning, from Tuam, has been volunteering at the sanctuary once a week for over five years. He is just one of many, with each volunteer allocated a specific day every week to look after the birds and their shelter.
A long-term member of the volunteer team, it was a return to college that eventually sparked his desire to help out, “I’ve always been interested in birds and wildlife,” he explained.
“In 2012, I went back to college and did an environmental science course. Of course, the first year was all bad news because there was no good news about the environment. After college, I signed up to volunteer here at the Sanctuary.
“It’s just giving back a little bit to the environment as much as I can.”
For any volunteer, the duties involve feeding the birds, cleaning their living space and general upkeep of the facility, among plenty of other things.
Volunteers typically spend two or three hours at the facility, while the charity itself operates around the clock, responding to bird rescue requests across the county.
With the assistance of generous donors across the county, the sanctuary provides a stable home for birds across Galway to recuperate following incidents which often leave them in need of a stable environment.
The busiest times of year are typically following storms or heatwaves, which often leave birds displaced from their natural habitat, be it water or woodlands.
In light of World Animal Week, which began on Wednesday, 4 October, and is celebrated to raise awareness about abandoned animals in Ireland, Cyril says there are a number of ways to provide a safe space for birds outside of the sanctuary.
“I think what we can do is educate our young people. If there was some form of an environmental awareness program put into schools and maybe some modules in third-level colleges, it would help,” he said.
“It goes without saying that if we ate less fish, there’d also be fewer fish taken out of the sea, that would help a lot of the seabirds.”
Organisations such as this would not exist were it not for the selfless work done by volunteers. Galway & Claddagh Swan Rescue is just one of many animal rescue centres located across the county, all backed by selfless teams of individuals and businesses hoping to give back.
Although there are tough times, particularly during the “unglamorous” months. Cyril says that the peace and quiet of caring for the keep is what fuels his enjoyment, and recommends that anyone interested should get in contact and help out.
“I love it, it’s good for the soul, and if there was any chaos, it would be organised — you can quote me on that!”